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It's the time of the season for loving.
The Zombies suffer from the tragic distinction of being a band who hit a creative and commercial zenith after they broke up. For most of the 1960s, they were relegated to also-ran status, despite the talents of singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent, the Zombies' key creative talents. Even though they racked up two Top 40 hits, "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No," the Zombies were never taken as seriously as their British Invasion peers like the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and the Yardbirds. After several unsuccessful attempts at breaking through in the United States, the Zombies broke up in 1968. Shortly before, however, they had recorded their swan song, a concept album called Odessey & Oracle, that they had put more effort into than any other. After superstar producer Al Kooper (Bob Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd) lobbied hard for the album to be released in the U.S., Odessey & Oracle became the biggest album in the band's career and spawned what would be their third and arguably most famous hit, "Time of the Season." Sadly, by that point, the band was no more, but fans always hoped to see the band actually perform these songs live.
In 2008, these fans finally got their wish. The Zombies reunited in March 2006 at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London to perform the album and other songs. Captured on The Zombies: Odessey & Oracle (Revisited): The 40th Anniversary Concert, the concert is split up into two parts. In the first, Blunstone and Argent perform various Zombies and solo songs with a touring band. In the second, original Zombies Chris White and Hugh Grundy join them to perform all of Odessey & Oracle in its entirety, as well as the Zombies' two other hits. Here are the set lists for both parts.
Part One: The Zombies' Touring Band
Part Two: Odessey & Oracle
The first half of the show is much more interesting than you might think. Though there aren't any famous Zombies songs here, the songs that are present are unusual and well-performed. The highlights include some songs from Blunstone's solo album performed with a string quintet. Blunstone's voice is just as haunting and evocative as ever and the string arrangements sound beautiful without overwhelming his singing. His version of Tim Hardin's "Misty Roses," in particular, is exquisite and of the show's highlights. For his part, Argent gets two showcase numbers from his solo band, including his biggest hit "Hold Your Head Up," that showcase his harder-edged side. Though some fans might balk at the fact that the majority of the musicians in this section are hired hands, the musicianship is sterling, and the performances and songs are too good to pass up watching.
Of course, most fans will be more interested in the second half, where Blunstone and Argent are joined by bassist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy, the other surviving members of the original Zombies (original guitarist Paul Atkinson passed away in 2004). The Odessey & Oracle material is good, but these performances are admittedly not as instantly compelling as the earlier songs. Part of the problem is that these songs were never intended to be performed live—they were strictly studio creations in the manner of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album. Consequently, the live arrangements don't always do the songs justice, especially on the more complex tunes like "Butcher's Tale." The Zombies' vocal harmonies are as potent as ever and the full complement of backing musicians do help round out the songs as much as possible, but there's just no way that the sound is ever going to match the studio versions. Also, it doesn't help that while Argent and Blunstone have continued to tour and record regularly, the other members are a bit more rusty and under-rehearsed. Nonetheless, it's genuinely fascinating to hear these songs performed live and the band really comes together for the final rousing numbers, which are the three biggest hits in their career. There's just too much good music here to pass up. While you shouldn't expect a flawless or consistent performance, the best moments here are worth seeing if you've ever been interested in the Zombies' music.
Technically the disc is good, though not great. The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer is solid, with little grain or artefacting. The Dolby 2.0 mix is loud and nicely balanced, allowing for a crisp and clear sound that shows off every instrument and vocal clearly. It's a shame, however, that MVD didn't spring for a 5.1 mix, especially since the more complex pieces would sound stellar this way. The only extra is what appears to be an excerpt (13:51) from a longer Zombies video biography in which the band members discuss the recording of Odessey & Oracle. The disc also comes with extensive liner notes regarding the concert.
Ultimately, Odessey & Oracle is worth a look for anyone who likes the Zombies' music. It may not be a perfect concert, but there is so much good music here that it's still a worthy way to discover the Zombies' best songs. Fans in particular will be pleased with the mixture of hits and obscurities and the band members' exuberance at finally getting to give these songs the performances they deserve is infectious. It's not an ideal introduction to the Zombies' music, but it is an entertaining watch.
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